Prepare your kitchen for an induction stove in 2023

Abt now has a sub-$1,000 induction stove. People with children or soon-to-have children should be the first ones looking into how they can replace their gas-burning cooking equipment and improve indoor air quality.

While you’re window shopping, you’ll also need to check your electrical panel…is there a circuit in the kitchen with a 40 amp breaker? If not, you’ll have to hire an electrician to run a new circuit (and a 240 volt outlet) for the induction stove.

Two Chicagoans I know have swapped their gas-burning stoves for induction stoves. You don’t want your children breathing benzene.

One of them is expecting a baby next month, so he replaced the stove earlier this year and had this to say about it:

Historically it’s been that gas was the powerhouse: if you need boiling water quickly, anything else won’t cut it. That’s just not the case now. Our induction stove cooks absurdly fast – we’re talking boiling water for coffee in 2-3 minutes. Lunch, dinner, coffee: the quick cook time makes for real time savings.

I’ve never been one to have a clean stove – too many parts and nooks and crannies. The induction range is one surface that’s easy to wipe. Also, the buttons are all up top towards the back, so our kid won’t be able to turn gas knobs you’d find on traditional stoves.

Overall for our health, the kid’s health and development, and all the bells and whistles that came with the basic model, we are so happy with the purchase.

Upgrading the electrical wiring will take a few weeks, which means you should wait to buy the induction stove until after January 1, 2023, when the Inflation Reduction Act rebates on energy efficient appliances kick in.

If you want to switch now, you can easily buy a single zone portal induction cooktop. Use it to boil water for coffee, tea, or pasta, and start practicing. IKEA sells a portal induction cooktop but won’t deliver it curently.

You probably already have pots and pans that are compatible with induction stoves: All cast iron and many stainless steel cookware are compatible. Even some aluminum and nonstick are compatible if they have a magnetic plate on the bottom.

If you have an old-fashioned electric stove (the kind with coils or a glass stop), I personally would recommend replacing it with induction only when it’s broken. It doesn’t release toxins like gas-burning stoves, so there’s not a need to accelerate replacement. Instead, buy and enjoy the speed of a portable induction cooktop!

N.B. I don’t earn any money from clicks on the links in this blog post. I selected Abt because they are a chain local to Chicago, and I conducted a survey of my Twitter followers in 2020 and the majority recommended buying appliances from Abt. I visited Abt’s showroom in Glenview in January 2022 (see photos below), and I was impressed by the store and the salesperson.

How I used ST_ClusterDBSCAN to locate clusters of multiple, similar parcels

Alternative headline: A practical example of how to use ST_ClusterDBSCAN to find similar real estate properties.

Oftentimes a developer wants to acquire several adjacent lots for a single redevelopment. Each standard sized lot in Chicago is about 3,125 square feet (25 feet wide and 125 feet deep). Because of downzoning in 2004, and since, the zoning rules for many lots allow only about 3-4 dwelling units each. Multiple lots are required to develop buildings with 6-9 dwelling units, which is a sweet spot in Chicago for design and avoiding having to get an upzone.

Chicago Cityscape has long had Property Finder, a tool to locate parcels that meet exacting specifications given existing lot size, current zoning district, distance to transit, and other criteria.

Now, Chicago Cityscape can locate parcels that are adjacent or near each other that all meet the user’s specified criteria (what the website calls “filters”). This is possible because of the PostGIS function ST_ClusterDBSCAN.

ST_ClusterDBSCAN considers all geospatial features in your result set (whatever matches the WHERE clause) and assigns them to a cluster ID according to two inputs: minimum cluster size, and maximum distance each feature can be from any other feature in order to be considered in the same cluster as that other feature.

The function can also assign a feature with a cluster ID of NULL, indicating that the feature did not meet the clustering criteria and is alone.

Show me what that looks like

Chicago Cityscape gives the user three options to cluster: Small, compact clusters with at least 3 properties each; small, compact clusters with at least 5 properties each; large, loose clusters with at least 10 properties each.

Additionally, Chicago Cityscape lets the user choose between showing parcels that weren’t found in a cluster, or hiding parcels that weren’t found in a cluster. The reason to show parcels that weren’t found in a cluster is to visualize where there are and aren’t clusters of parcels in the same map.

A map of Chicago’s Near West Side community area is shown with clusters of vacant lots. The “show all properties” mode is used, which shows clusters with a thick, black outline. Properties that were not in a cluster are still shown but without the thick black outline (enlarge the photo to see the difference).

Sample query

This query looks at all of the vacant lots within 1 mile of the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Karlov Avenue in the West Garfield Park community area of Chicago. The query looks for clusters of at least 3 features (“minpoints”) that are no more than 25 feet apart (“eps”). (The data are projected in Illinois StatePlane East Feet, rather than a projection that’s in meters because it’s easier for me to work with feet.)

I posted another sample query below that’s used to exclude all of the features that were not assigned to a cluster.

SELECT pin14, ST_ClusterDBSCAN(geom, eps := 25, minpoints := 3) over () AS cid, geom
FROM parcels
WHERE property_class = '1-00'
	AND ST_DWithin(geom,
        ST_Transform(
            ST_GeomFromText('POINT(-87.7278 41.8819)', 4326), 3435),
           5280)

The screenshot below shows clusters of vacant lots that resulted from the query above. The parcels symbolized in a gray gradient were not assigned to a cluster. Notice how clusters will form across the alleys but not across streets; this is because the streets are wider than 25 feet but most alleys are only 16 feet wide.

The map shows various groups (clusters) of vacant properties in West Garfield Park. Each cluster is symbolized in QGIS using a different color. Properties that are not in a cluster are symbolized by a gray gradient.

Exclusion sample query

This query is the same as above except that a Common Table Expression (CTE) is used (CTEs have the “WITH” keyword at the beginning) to create a subquery. The “WITH” subquery is the one that clusters the parcels and the following query (“SELECT *”) throws out any features returned by the subquery that don’t have a cluster ID (the “cid” field).

with parcels as (
SELECT pin14, ST_ClusterDBSCAN(geom, eps := 25, minpoints := 3) over () AS cid, geom
FROM parcels
WHERE property_class = '1-00'
	AND ST_DWithin(geom,
        ST_Transform(
            ST_GeomFromText('POINT(-87.7278 41.8819)', 4326), 3435),
           5280)
) select * 
from parcels where cid is not null;

I would also recommend Dan Baston’s blog post from six years ago which has more commentary and explanation, and additional examples of how to use the function.

Shortlist: Four urbanism podcasts I listen to

I started listening to podcasts in 2021. I am sharing a list of four that I listen to regularly. Surprising to me, none of them are about Chicago.

Must-listen:

  • UCLA Housing Voice is hosted by four UCLA researchers and teachers. Every week during the season (they’re on season two now) they summarize an academic paper about housing and cities and interview the authors. What I like about this is a few things: the consistent format, summarizing academic papers that I don’t have access to and are sometimes painstaking to read and understand, and getting the authors to expand on what they published.
  • The Livable Low-Carbon City are short, explainer-style episodes about the essentials to designing and redesigning cities and neighborhoods for the low-carbon future that we need. Mike Eliason is well known on “Urbanism Twitter” and “Architecture Twitter” for pushing passive house building techniques, baugruppen (a kind of cooperative housing), and point access blocks. Eliason’s episodes are brief and easy to understand, and are a great outlet to hear about his time working and living with his family in Germany.

Sometimes listen:

Allowing cottage courts in Chicago requires changing the zoning code

Ed. note: This is a work in progress; I’m looking for feedback, and for good imagery of cottage courts in other cities with neighborhoods that have a similar structure as typical ones in Chicago (I’m specifically referring to block and lot sizes).

Cottage courts (or clusters) are a common multi-family design typology in cities outside of Illinois. You’ll find them in California (where they’re more often called bungalow courts) and Tennessee, for example. They are characterized by having multiple detached one or two-story houses on a single and compact development site. The houses commonly face a shared green space and have shared parking behind them.

A primary benefit of cottage courts is that it creates more for-sale detached houses (which are in very high demand in Chicago) while sharing land [1]. In other words, cottage courts create more detached houses using less land.

It is not possible to build a cottage court in Chicago because of how the zoning code is written. The purpose of this article is to discuss specific text amendments that would have to be collectively adopted in order to allow this housing type.

screenshot of a page from a guide about Missing Middle housing in Chattanooga, TN. The image has a site plan for a cottage court, an isometric view of the rendered cottage court, a narrative about the sample project, and statistics.
A sample cottage court intended for an audience in Chattanooga, TN, created by the Incremental Development Alliance.

Zoning code barriers

  1. The Chicago zoning code allows only one principal building per lot. A detached house constitutes a principal building and only one of them is allowed. The code would have to be changed to allow more than one principal buildings per lot. If the city council wants to limit this allowance to cottage courts then other code would have to be modified to define a cottage court (similarly to how it has a definition of a townhouse).
  2. Cottage courts should be fee simple [2], to make them easier to mortgage and sell, which means subdividing a lot into one lot per house. The Chicago zoning code does not allow subdividing a lot below the minimum lot area for the particular zoning district governing a lot. For example, currently in RS-3, if more than one principal building per lot was allowed, each cottage court house would have to occupy 2,500 s.f., which is an untenable size for cottage court development.
  3. Minimum lot area per unit standards also severely restrict development of cottage courts. To build four houses in an RS-3 zoning district one would need a 10,000 s.f. lot!
  4. Rear setbacks would need to be reducible, preferably without the need for a variation from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Because the houses are oriented to face a common green space at the interior of the lot (not at the front or rear of the lot), the rear of the house may be close to the side property line, violating the rear setback standard of ~30 feet.
  5. Side setbacks would need to be combinable or eliminated as a requirement for cottage court development, so that the houses could be closer together or the designer could have more flexibility in their orientation.
  6. Parking requirements would need to be more flexible, both in quantity and in design. Parking is currently allowed only in the rear setback, but these houses may not have a rear setback because of their inward orientation. To maximize shared green space parking requirements should be reducible for this housing type. The Chicago TOD ordinance may be relevant here, as it now applies in RM-5, and higher, residential zoning districts, but the cottage court needs to be allowable in the RS-3 and RT-4 zoning districts (as these are for more common).

Attorneys, designers, and developers: Are there any other Chicago zoning code standards missing?

Examples of cottage courts

I know of two cottage court examples in Chicago (thanks, Matt and Matt):

  • 7436 S Phillips Ave (et. al.). These were built prior to 1952, according to historic aerial images, and are individually parceled (see barrier #2 above).
  • 7433 S Euclid Pkwy (et. al.). The houses were built between 1938 and 1952, according to historic aerial images, and are individually parceled. Two of the parcels are vacant

All of the images below are from the Missing Middle Housing website, created by Opticos Design, an architecture firm that has popularized the term “missing middle”.

Notes

A tiny house village may also be considered a cottage court. The influential architecture firm, Landon Bone Baker, once designed a proposed tiny house village (knowing full well it was not legal) for Thresholds and Easter Seals in Chicago.

[1] It’s also assumed that sharing land means sharing land costs, and land costs are a significant part of purchasing a house. In the areas where demand for detached houses is the highest, land costs are also the highest. Cottage courts create more detached houses with less land.

[2] fee simple has a legal meaning, but here I mean “the house owner also owns the land beneath the house”, and the pair are collateral for the lender that, on paper, looks like any other detached house the lender has mortgaged.

Chicago Crash Browser updates with stats, filters, and news article links

Today I’m adding a bunch of new features to the Chicago Crash Browser, which lives on Chicago Cityscape.

But first…special access is no longer required. Anyone can create a free Cityscape account and access the map. However, only those with special access or a Cityscape Real Estate Pro account will be able to download the data.


Five new features include:

  • Statistics that update weekly to summarize what happened in the past week: the number of crashes, the number of people killed in crashes, and the number of people with the two worst tiers of injuries. The statistics are viewable to everyone, including those without access to the crash browser.
screenshot of the new weekly statistics
The statistics will update every Sunday. The numbers may change throughout the week as Chicago police officers upload crash reports.
  • For data users, the crash record ID is viewable. The crash record ID links details about the same crash across the Chicago data portal’s three tables: Crashes, Vehicles, and People. My Chicago Crash Browser is currently only using the Crashes table. Click on the “More details” arrow in the first table column.
screenshot of the data table showing the crash record ID revealed.
The crash record ID is hidden by default but can be exposed. Use this ID to locate details in the data portal’s Vehicles and People tables.
  • Filter crashes by location. There are currently two location filters: (1) on a “Pedestrian Street” (a zoning designation to, over time, reduce the prevalence of car-oriented land uses and improve building design to make them more appealing to walk next to); (2) within one block of a CTA or Metra station, important places where people commonly walk to. Select a filter’s radio button and then click “Apply filters”.
  • Filter crashes by availability of a news article or a note. I intend to attach news articles to every crash where a pedestrian or bicyclist was killed (the majority of these will be to Streetsblog Chicago articles, where I am still “editor at large”. Notes will include explanations about data changes [1] (the “map editor” mentioned in some of the notes is me) and victims’ names.
screenshot of the two types of filters

After choosing a filter’s radio button click “Apply filters” and the map and data table will update.
  • Filter by hit and run status. If the officer filling out the crash report marked it as a hit and run crash, you can filter by choosing “Yes” in the options list. “No” is another option, as is “not recorded”, which means the officer didn’t select yes or no.
  • Search by address. Use the search bar inside the map view to center the map and show crashes that occurred within one block (660 feet) of that point. The default is one block and users can increase that amount using the dropdown menu in the filter.
screenshot of the map after the search by address function has been used
Use the search bar within the map view to show crashes near a specific address in Chicago.

Footnotes

[1] The most common data change as of this writing is when a crash’s “most severe injury” is upgraded from non-fatal to fatal, but the crash report in the city’s data portal does not receive that update. This data pipeline/publishing issue is described in the browser’s “Crash data notes” section.

The “map editor” (me) will change a crash’s “most severe injury” to fatal to ensure it appears when someone filters for fatal crashes. This change to the data will be noted.